Thursday, 16 April 2015

Searching for the money tree — part eight

This brilliant graphic says it all
artist: Mick Stephenson
With today's economic problems, you have to watch your back. This is especially true if you are a member of the shrinking middle class. The linked article is about the United States, but the same is true, to a greater or lesser degree, for many countries and regions. The cycles of boom and bust hit such people especially hard. The arts often suffer when things go bad. People will naturally complain about funding going to the arts when their employers are talking about downsizing. When the bubble has burst, and you can neither make the mortgage payment nor sell the house for anything close to what you had signed for, the fact that some people might have to pay more for their opera tickets is of little comfort. Your government might well bail out the financial institutions who got you into this mess in the first place but you, my friend, are on your own. I cannot blame you for buying into the dream: our dreams keep us going and allow us to get through a few tough times because there is always a light at the end of the tunnel. Nowadays, though, some people are thinking that light is an oncoming train.

I used to be a typical "starving artist". While most people were revelling in the boom times and suffering in the bust times, it was the opposite for me. Like the protagonist in Robert Nathan's novella, Portrait of Jennie, I had a patron who owned a restaurant. Funnily enough, his wife's name was also Jennie. Oscar was a kindly Jewish businessman who had been in the Diplomatic Corps and Jennie had been a U.N. translator. I was working on a very elaborate and large pen and ink drawing for him and he allowed me to get an advance on the purchase price anytime that my finances were dwindling. He also allowed me to work on drawings in his restaurant, and if a customer wanted to order one from me, that was fine too. He had previously bought a larger than life size pen and ink drawing of a Canadian Lynx, and a few minor drawings. I once said that I thought that I would enjoy working for the Diplomatic Corps. I will never forget his answer: he laughed and said, "You like solving problems, Johnny, we used to work to avoid them." Once, they had to both be away from the restaurant for most of the day. They had three exceptionally attractive young daughters who worked there and Oscar asked me to watch out for them while they were gone. "If you get hungry", he said, "just go into the kitchen and make yourself something." I think that I sold a drawing that day, and thankfully, I did not have to play the role of "bouncer" against an overly amorous diner.

Convent Trees by the Elbow River
John Hooker, 1979, 12" X 16"
oil on canvas (public domain)
The drawings were just my "bread and butter". In my studio I painted in acrylic or oils and in a very different style. Whenever I got too thin, I would look in the newspaper job ads and would usually get something in a jewellery store because of my previous experience. I enjoyed the work and, being in my twenties, could afford to date more girls. Eventually though, I realized that I was not going to be another Cézanne and I decided to follow other interests. The painting on the left (sorry about the slight glare on the right side of the photo) was one of my last paintings. I kept it for myself. I wanted to give a hint of the stained glass windows in the cathedral next to the convent where I sketched the scene. The trees were actually that shape, but I went wild with the pathways. Even though I had sneaked into the convent grounds to get a better view of the trees and the nuns had spotted me, they allowed me to draw in peace.

The collector and the dealer of ancient coins and art is experiencing the effects of a "turf war" at the moment. Some archaeologists, especially those who cannot devise methods to counteract missing data, are even accusing us of being the "real looters". Art crimes are popular in the media these days, and accusations of not following "due diligence" are being made by those who are also withholding archives of works that are suspected (with only "ad hominem" evidence). Such people, of course, not only can benefit from excavation permits from countries getting the stuff back (and these countries use such as metaphorical "spoils of war" against the countries that have returned them), but some are cashing in by offering degrees in "art-crime" related topics to the young. Now if such courses insisted on prerequisites of degrees in international law, criminology and art-history. I might not laugh so much. I think the real looting going on there is of the parent's bank accounts or the student's debt load. From personal experience, I can assure you that there is little difference in the ethics of big business and educational organizations. You see news videos of "smugglers" being arrested and the "priceless artifacts" shown are just cheap tourist fakes. Dealers who advertise coins that originated in regions now in conflict are accused of selling looted artifacts sold to finance terrorism, even though such coins have been in collections for decades and even centuries, and any academic specialist knows this. The amount of money from art crimes is said to be second only to drug dealing or gun running and so on, but if you look at other sorts of crimes such as poaching, cigarette smuggling or whatever, exactly the same thing is being said there too.

These people do not have to worry too much about the state of the economy, though. If they lose their jobs, I'm sure they would do just fine as used car salesmen.

Tomorrow, my "Iceni hypothesis" will start.


  1. i never knew you had an artistic side john,not bad,not bad at all.

  2. Thanks Kyri, as I know you also have some paintings in your collection, that means a lot to me. I found that I could now and again do something OK if I was inspired, but the inspiration came too infrequently and most of my paintings were not that good.



  3. John I know of two individuals who would make terrific used car salesmen, however at present they are very busy insulting collectors and detectorists...

    1. Hi Dick, It's so sad when people miss their true calling in life.